Michael Ondaatje Biography

Michael Ondaatje, a Canadian novelist and poet, is widely recognized for his Booker Prize-winning novel, ‘The English Patient’. Originally from Sri Lanka, he embarked on a journey that led him to England and eventually settled in Canada. Ondaatje’s passion for poetry emerged at a young age, and he began his writing career while working as a teacher. His literary repertoire encompasses both poetry and fiction, characterized by evocative imagery, eloquent language, and profound metaphors. With 13 books of poetry and six novels under his belt, Ondaatje has established himself as a prominent figure in the literary world. Renowned for his ability to blur the boundaries between prose and poetry, past and present, and thought and emotion, he delves into the internal struggles of his characters with a poetic writing style that captivates readers. His masterpiece, the 1992 novel ‘The English Patient’, not only garnered critical acclaim but was also adapted into an Academy Award-winning film. Ondaatje’s literary genius has solidified his position as one of Canada’s most esteemed contemporary writers, leaving an indelible mark on the world of literature.

Quick Facts

  • Canadian Celebrities Born In September
  • Also Known As: Philip Michael Ondaatje
  • Age: 80 Years, 80 Year Old Males
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Linda Spalding
    • Father: Mervyn Ondaatje
    • Mother: Doris Gratiaen
    • Siblings: Christopher Ondaatje, Gillian Ondaatje
  • Born Country: Sri Lanka
  • Quotes By Michael Ondaatje
  • Poets
  • Ancestry: Sri Lankan Canadian, Dutch Canadian
  • Notable Alumni: Bishop’s University, Queen’s University
  • More Facts
  • Education: University Of Toronto, Queen’s University, Bishop’s University
  • Awards:
    • Man Booker Prize – 1992
    • Scotiabank Giller Prize – 2000
    • Prix Médicis étrange – 2000
    • Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts – 1984
    • Governor General’s Award for English-language fiction 2007-2000-1992
    • Governor General’s Award for English-language poetry or drama 1979-1970.

Childhood & Early Life

Michael Ondaatje was born on September 12, 1943, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, to Mervyn Ondaatje and his wife, Doris Gratiaen. He has an elder brother, Christopher Ondaatje, who went on to become a successful entrepreneur. After receiving his initial education at St. Thomas’ College in Colombo, he and his mother moved to England in 1954, where he resumed his education at Dulwich College in London. From 1962 to 1964, he studied at the Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, Quebec, Canada. In 1965, he obtained his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Toronto, and went on to complete his M.A. from Queen’s University, in Kingston, Ontario, in 1967.


Michael Ondaatje started his career as a teacher at the University of Western Ontario, London, in 1967. In 1971, he became a member of the Department of English at Glendon College, York University, Toronto. In 1967, he published his first collection of poetry titled ‘The Dainty Monsters’, a series of lyrics that associate everyday life with mythology. In 1976, he emerged as a novelist with his book ‘Coming Through Slaughter’. It is a novel about the New Orleans jazz musician Buddy Bolden’s descent into insanity. His other famous works include: ‘Running in the Family’ (1982)—his memoirs about life in Ceylon — and ‘In the Skin of a Lion’ (1987)—a novel about the clash between the rich and poor in early 20th-century Toronto. His 1984 poetry collection titled ‘Secular Love’ contains poetry about the breakup of his marriage. His other lyrical works include ‘The Cinnamon Peeler’ (1989) and ‘Handwriting: Poems’ (1998). In 2000, he published his novel titled ‘Anil’s Ghost’, which has a backdrop of Sri Lanka amid the political violence of the 1980s and 1990s. His more recent works as a novelist include ‘Divisadero’ (2007) and ‘The Cat’s Table’ (2011). Aside from writing, he has also contributed towards short movies and plays. He is also an editor and has influenced and shaped numerous Canadian authors.

Major Works

One of his most celebrated works is the 1970 collection titled ‘The Collected Works of Billy the Kid: Left-Handed Poems’. It is an assortment of poems, prose, photographs, and even comic books, which reflects on the nature of heroism and violence. Ondaatje’s best known work is his 1992 novel ‘The English Patient’, which won him the Booker Prize and was later adapted into an Academy Award winning film. The book is set in Italy at the end of the Second World War and narrates an epic tale of the physical and emotional damage inflicted by war.

Awards & Achievements

In 1966, he received the prestigious ‘E. J. Pratt Medal’ and the ‘Epstein Award’. In 1967, he was awarded the President’s Medal by the ‘University of Western Ontario’. In 1971, he won the ‘Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction’ (Canada) for his poem ‘The Collected Works of Billy the Kid’. In 1980, he was presented with the ‘Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction’ (Canada) for his poetry collection ‘There’s a Trick with a Knife I’m Learning to Do’. In 1988, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada (OC). In 1990, he was named a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1992, he was awarded the distinguished ‘Booker Prize for Fiction’ for his acclaimed novel ‘The English Patient’. The same year, he also received the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction (Canada) for the aforementioned novel. In 2000, he won the ‘Kiriyama Pacific Rim Book Prize’, ‘Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction’ (Canada), and the ‘Giller Prize’ (Canada) for his novel ‘Anil’s Ghost’.

Personal Life & Legacy

Michael Ondaatje is married to Linda Spalding, a novelist and academic, and the couple has two children.

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